Mission: Impossible: Fallout Is the Best Movie in a Franchise of Great Movies

What Mission: Impossible – Fallout accomplishes should be… well, impossible. The entire movie is an exercise in intensity and focus that shouldn’t be sustainable for more than 10 or 15 minutes, let alone an entire movie. There were hints of this in Rogue Nation, and I’m realizing now this is why I felt like it was “more consistent” than my other favorite, Ghost Protocol. But in Fallout, it’s fully realized. There’s an even more intense plot involving nuclear weapons than in Ghost Protocol, and from the moment it’s introduced you feel its weight, and you feel the pressure threatening to crush you along with the rest of the characters throughout the entire length of the movie. It makes you feel like you were literally on this mission with them. If this is the series’ new normal… well, I was already fully onboard, but consider me, I don’t know, even more fully onboard?

My initial, not at all correct reaction to Rogue Nation was that it felt like the Mission: Impossible series was getting kind of stuttery with all its soft reboots. When I watched all five movies to get ready for Fallout, I didn’t get that impression at all, but in light of that the way Fallout treats the series’ continuity is even more staggering. It isn’t just a more direct sequel to Rogue Nation than any Mission: Impossible movie has ever been to its predecessor. It reaches all the way back to the first movie to make one of its big secondary players related to the distinctive, vaguely fabulous arms dealer Max. It also makes the connection even more obvious by including several very noticeable callbacks to the first film’s soundtrack. It may have been my imagination but for the briefest of moments I thought I even heard a bit that sounded pretty similar to some of the second movie’s soundtrack? Julia is also back, and tied to the emotional core of the movie in a much greater way even than she was in Ghost Protocol, which thematically ties the movie back to Mission: Impossible III as well. What I’m trying to say here is that while the movie works and is great even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, if you are a fan, it’s practically a passionate love letter.

Other than Ethan, characters weave in and out of the narrative seamlessly to be there when they’re required and not be there when they’re not. It takes a hell of a lot of confidence to do what this movie does with its characters. The first scene needed Ethan’s entire crew to be together, so they were. From that point on it immediately moves into a situation where Ethan is alone with Walker–a brand new, antagonistic character–for what should’ve been an uncomfortably long segment of the movie. They’re briefly joined by Ilsa, who will then spend the rest of the movie stalking Ethan and appearing when she needs to appear. And by the time Benji and Luther are back, you almost find yourself thinking, “Oh thank Goddess, I thought they were out of the movie.” Eventually, Rogue Nation’s antagonist Soloman Lane comes back in the fold as well, and as the movie unfolds it really starts to take the form of a very complicated dance between Ethan, Lane, and Ilsa. And throughout it all, every single character is played with an uncomfortable intensity. Emotions are right on the surface. Motives are starkly obvious in a way that’s just pretty damn uncommon for a spy movie, but still completely works. Every moment serves to ratchet up the drama more and more and more until it’s gloriously uncomfortable.

The one story choice I found myself mulling over whether it was a serious misstep was how things with Ilsa and Julia were handled. I was very taken aback in Rogue Nation when Ilsa implored Ethan to run away with her. It felt so jarring compared to everything else her character had done up until that point, and seemed like it was more or less designed to make a capable, independent, badass woman into the male lead’s romantic interest for literally no reason especially considering he was (as far as we knew at the time) still married, after all. It didn’t offend me as much in this context, when it was part of a dance within a dance? And this movie wasn’t as fucking obnoxious like a Bond movie probably would be in emphasizing Ilsa and Julia as pawns in a game between Ethan and Lane. Yes, Lane’s plan was to get both of the women Ethan cared about in one place at one time and force him to watch them be vaporized in nuclear fire. But Ilsa remained a force of nature throughout the entire movie, and had her own story with her own goals and issues to work through, with a satisfying conclusion that actually had her and not Ethan confronting Lane, the mastermind, while Ethan was tasked with taking on Walker, who was basically positioned as a sort of anti-Ethan but still in the grand scheme of things was ultimately Lane’s subordinate.

The dynamic between Ilsa and Julia… this is going to be more controversial, probably, but I actually kind of loved it? Like, don’t get me wrong, I had a double consciousness about it. It’s way too easy to see it as a shitty male power fantasy that the self-sacrificing action hero badass man had these two beautifully complex women that cared so much about him. And, again, if it weren’t textured very carefully the overarching plot contrivance of both women being part of Lane’s revenge scheme would be super, super gross, but I honestly felt like both women were treated very fairly by the narrative. Especially, to my great surprise, Julia. Even while she’s being used as a pawn, she comes across as such a vibrant, empowered character who is living her truth and has made hard choices in order to be her best self. And like all the other characters, her motives and feelings and what’s important to her are all right there on the surface, but she is no weaker either as a character or a person because of it. Her raw connection with Ethan is obvious, and the way it’s presented in the movie is just another moment of staggering emotional intensity. I really thought this movie had a chance to be my favorite of the series (it is) and my favorite of the year (it is) because of all the badass action, but I didn’t expect a big part of why I think so highly of it to be that it made me feel so many feelings.

Now, this next part has nothing to do with the movie or how good it was, but I had a pretty immediate fantasy of how much better this movie would be if Ethan were a woman. I don’t just mean that because most movies would be better if the protagonist were a woman. I’m just imagining that same emotional resonance and history between him and Julia and that same tension and reluctant attraction to Ilsa and then all three of them seeing each other at the same time for the first time… and the immediate almost affectionate connection between Julia and Ilsa would’ve taken on a dramatically different texture, and possibly had much more interesting (and more awesome) implications for the future. Yeah, I know, there’s never going to be anything like that in a fucking Mission: Impossible movie, I’m just saying.

But, yeah. I love this movie. I was worried going into it that I was setting myself up for a fall, that there was no way it could live up to the hype that I had built up around it… but it met and exceeded all my wildest hopes and expectations and then some. I loved it for all the reasons I thought I would love it, but it piled even more reasons on top of those. It surprised me, not by any contrivance of plot, but by its overall structure and, again, its startling emotional resonance. It is a collection of so many different elements working together perfectly that I want to go see it again right now. I almost did, actually, because I was out running errands today and happened to be right next door to a movie theater, but it looked hella crowded and I couldn’t deal with that right now. But I am sure I’m going to see it in theaters at least half a dozen times. It’s that good. And unless something very unforeseen and awesome happens, it’s my favorite movie of the year.


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